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School officials craft vision for education
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School superintendents and school board members around the state are trying to drastically change education.

With questions about technology, standardized testing and student engagement looming in the face of continued budget cuts, 16 superintendents and 15 school board members decided to tackle the problems together as a statewide issue.

The Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association created a new project — A Vision for Public Education in Georgia — to address concerns about testing, learning and financing for effective education.

“Public education for a generation now has seemed to respond to outside criticism, and I can’t think of a more important thing for the community and culture to be about than education in the next generation,” said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield, one of 16 superintendents who joined the project. “This effort is to put forward the vision for what education can be instead of responding to criticisms. We’ve been against everything instead of standing for something.”

The 31 team members broke up into seven focus areas, meeting with different education experts each month to talk about digital learning, standards and assessment. The group also held community conversations around the state, gleaning what parents and business owners marked as the most important aspects of education.

The school officials met in Macon last week to create initial reports for the seven areas, outlining broad ideas that can change the way school is traditionally taught in Georgia. They will also meet with high school students in Louisville, Columbus, Atlanta and Jesup this month before drafting final reports in September.

Schofield, a member of the group focusing on teaching and learning practices, is looking forward to the student conversations the most.

“At our last Hall County school board retreat, where we talk about our vision for the upcoming year, we brought in 12 or 13 high school students and let them tell us about their educational experiences and passions and how school could better meet them,” Schofield said. “It was the most powerful retreat I’ve attended, and the students were the reason.”

Under the initial draft for the Teaching, Learning and Assessment focus group, team members pointed to the changes needed in curriculum and testing in the classroom to keep education relevant and help students prepare for the job world.

“Knowledge is expanding at such a rapid pace that it is no longer possible for students to leave high school, or even college, knowing all that they will need to know to be successful,” the group wrote. “Instead, students need a challenging and meaningful curriculum that will engage them in learning how to acquire, organize, analyze and use knowledge to solve problems.”

The group pulled out ideas that local school officials, including Schofield, have recently advocated in their own school districts. Now the Vision for Public Education organization is pulling the local ideas together.

“Schools can no longer try to teach for the ‘average’ child but must ensure that all students reach their potential,” the group wrote. “This means that teachers must know their content and the students well enough to select learning opportunities that match differences based on a variety of factors including background, cognitive ability, experience and interest.”

By talking to the students this month, the 31 officials hope to narrow down their broad ideas to more specific goals that can be enacted at the local level.

“Who’s in a better position than the students themselves to talk?” Schofield said. “Especially those on the cusp of graduating, who can tell us what school was and could have been and what we can do to make it more relevant.”